Feature Article

Introduction: Letters from Hawley Prindle

A young beekeeper not long ago asked me to write something about keeping bees in the past. At 78, I really don’t consider myself old and the thought struck me that many of my very good friends have already past to the other side.

I am not much on words and consider myself just one of the guys that has suffered thru the modern age with no respect for anything old. At one time I had 36 out yards and 600 hives of bees. There is no way I could even locate some of those out-yards today. They are gone along with the farms that supported the small dairy operations and the hay fields that my bees foraged on. By the 1990’s I saw the effects of declining honey crops and the need to medicate my bees to keep them alive.

Looking back is hard. In reality we did not have the support that new beekeepers have. We were on our own for the most part and I guess that is why I am more of an individual than the general beekeeper. I learned by hard knocks: I one time shut down the north bound lane of I 75 in Dayton, Ohio because the road was so rough that the back row of bee hives fell off my truck – yeah, I thought I had them tied down pretty good. I even got on television that night and my mother called to ask if that was me!

It was called malfunction junction [I 75 and Rt. 42 come together just North of downtown Dayton]. I made it more of a malfunction junction. I have avoided that piece of road since and do not know if the brains that design roads in Ohio ever got it fixed. I was not ticketed but got a police escort out of town. The road crew just loaded all the hives smashed [nothing could be recovered] into a dump truck and got that highway opened as quickly as possible. I was worried that I was going to be arrested but I guess, they were just happy to see me on my way. It is not like that these days.

I am now retired and have several hives of bees. Less stress and not over worked as in the past. But beekeeping isn’t what it used to be. If I was starting over again, I would be much like any new beekeeper but I can still say, bees haven’t changed! We have and our environment has changed a lot.

Beekeeping should be fun and exciting.

Beekeeping should be fun and exciting. As a result, I am approaching these letters pretty much as an individual who still has something to say and an ear to listen to what you might add to the discussion.

All beekeepers have stories to tell. I am reminded that at one time Henry Ford built automobile engines on his kitchen table. I also learned that Mrs. Ford is reported to not have objected. Later in life, after building his estate home, Fair Lane in Dearborn, Michigan, his wife, Clara decided that the music room with its mahogany walls – dark rich wood that took wood carvers 3 years to complete was too dark and dreary. So when Henry took a trip to Europe, she hired painters to paint the room a light green color which was more to her taste. When Henry arrived home and entered the music room, he was reported as saying, “peace at any price.”

Way back in my early days, I also used the kitchen to do my bee stuff. My wife, Bernice, did not much like me using “her” kitchen. So I did what any red blood guy would do, “I waited for her to go shopping.” I knew that would take her several hours and possibly a good part of the day.

I laid plastic sheeting on the floor. I ain’t stupid! Brought my honey boxes and laid them on the plastic. I dragged my extractor up from the basement – being real careful not to ding the wall or anything to give Bernice something to bitch about. I used an old tub to collect the capping’s and had the great idea that I could wash the capping’s with water (using the honey water to feed the bees). I decided to put the wet wax capping’s in a double boiler on the stove – gas fired of course. I could extract honey from my supers, collect both the honey and capping’s, and of course clean everything up before Bernice made it home!

Things were going pretty good. I was cranking out frame after frame. When I had enough honey in the extractor, I would drain the honey into a five gallon bucket thru a filter made out of Bernice’s old silk stocks. Of course that went pretty good as well for a while. Darn if those socks drained slower and slower with each load of honey. But that was not the worst of it. That d… sock slipped down into my bucket of honey. I had started the fire on the stove a bit earlier and was melting down my first batch of wax capping’s. As I finished each load of honey draining into the five gallon bucket, I would run over and check the melting condition of the wax.

Hey, don’t get ahead of me in the story. I was distracted with that silk hose that had fallen down into my 2/3 full bucket of honey. I had to reach down almost to the bottom of the bucket to get hold of it. I lifted the sock and stood there looking around. I had no place to set it – just stand there with it dripping honey down into the bucket. First thought that maybe I would put it into the extractor, but silly me, I tried to make for the door (plastic was covering the floor). Found out the hard way that plastic and honey make for a real slippery floor. Laying there on my back, now covered with honey I heard a hissing coming from the stove. I knew that was not good.

The water was boiling and wax was starting to flow over the edge of the double boiler. I got to it in time and turned off the fire. But the heat and the wax had already made a mess of Bernice’s stove. Ever smell burned wax? Oh! My. Bernice was going to be pissed! I cleaned everything up. Took the honey supers and frames out for the bees to rob. Cleaned the extractor and got it down to the basement. Rolled up the plastic sheeting.

Well, things were still sticky in some places so I got out the mop and mopped the kitchen floor to get rid of the stickiness. But the stove was another problem. Not only was it difficult to get the wax off the burners, and stove top, there was a rancid odor hanging in the kitchen air. So I opened the door and windows to air the house out! That was a big mistake. Soon bees were flying in all the windows and filling the kitchen. I guess I missed some of that honey on the floor and the area where I slipped trying to take that dang silk sock out of the honey bucket.

Now this was my dilemma, Bernice was coming home anytime, shortly, and at best a little longer. The kitchen was filled with bees and a sour odor. Unlike Henry Ford, I was gona be in for it. I tried turning off all the lights (hoping the bees would fly to the windows because of the light). Okay, more bees coming in than going out! Close the windows I desperately decided. I could catch most of them flying against the glass – still had time. Mashed bees by the hundreds and smashed bees smear windows nicely I saw. I heard the car drive up. Bernice is home!

I met her smile at the door. It didn’t remain a smile for long. First words out of her mouth, “That smell – What pig farm have you visited today?” I found peace and quiet in the orchard far from the house. Bernice – I could still hear her; “Dam’d this and Dam’d that! I was forbidden to ever try using the kitchen to melt wax or extract honey.

What’s a guy to do? It’s my house too! At least I didn’t burn the house down like some guys have done when they try to use the stove in the house to melt wax. That smell lasted some time – about as long as it took Bernice to talk to me again. There was no “peace and any price” for Bernice.